It was one of those days at work when the whole day is swamped with meetings. I hadn’t had a proper lunch and was starving by evening. I waltzed into the pantry to quickly grab some bread and cheese in the hopes of not being late to my next meeting. I always go with wheat bread and double cheese. Here is a thing about me, I eat what I like and what I like mostly happens to be nutritious. Of course, no one gets that.
Predictably, an acquaintance who saw me in the pantry said something along the lines of, “Oh, you’re taking wheat bread and two slices of cheese? Doesn’t the cheese defeat the purpose of having wheat bread? Aren’t you concerned about the calories?” As much as I wanted to roll my eyes, in order to look professional, I simply smiled. I had half a mind to taunt them with, “Are you saying I should be conscious of my calorie intake? Wait, did you just call me fat?” Since I didn’t have the patience or the time to do that, as always, I simply explained that I like my bread brown and I don’t see the point of having a sandwich without cheese.
Most health conscious people will tell you that whole wheat brown bread tastes better than white bread, brown rice is more filling and delicious than white rice, unrefined sugar has a nice flavour that refined white sugar lacks. I can honestly say that ever since I had wheat rava upma and ragi semiya upma (considered healthier varieties of common south Indian delicacies), I don’t like the regular rava upma and semiya upma. I’m assuming that I’m very much used to the regular upma so I find them boring, whereas these healthier versions provide me new flavours that tingle my taste buds, so I find them delicious for now.
Of course, whenever I eat any of these foods, people comment that I’m too health conscious or worse, assume I’m dieting. Funny thing is that I don’t even consume goods labelled “diet”, “low fat”, etc. I want the real deal. No artificial sugar, 0% fat, low calories, baked crap for me, thanks. Give me real butter, cheese, ghee (hydrogenated butter), and traditionally used oils any day. All I care about is the taste and to an extent, the nutritional value.
To add fuel to the judgmental fire, I also happen to be a poor eater. I may be a bit on the plump side, but I’ve never cared about dieting or exercising to lose weight. I have never ever cared about my weight (I understand that it is not the best attitude when it comes to health, but whatever). I try to exercise for fitness reasons, but being a couch potato, I don’t do that often. Yet, whenever people see me eating, they assume that I’m dieting and am health conscious because I eat less and have healthy foods.
I just happen to love vegetables and would eat them in any form. Whenever I have equal portions of veggies and rice, i.e., my daily lunch, people think I’m dieting and I have to convince them that I really do like my vegetables and spinach. I often feel like retorting, “Maybe you can’t cook spinach properly and that’s why you don’t like it. If you learnt to cook, you would also find spinach delicious.” But I don’t want to stoop to their level, so I politely divert the topic.
How is it that people seem to forget all about the cheese/butter they frequently see me consume (and mock about), but recall that one time months ago when I was sick and said no to ghee? Judgers need to be more consistent. It’s funny when they tell me to eat less cheese 10 minutes earlier and comment that I’m dieting because I added only one sachet of sugar in my coffee. Do they really think I could go from glutton to anorexic within minutes or do they have selective amnesia?
What irks me the most is when some random person shares their dieting regime, another one chimes in saying that I should try it out. I’ve never ever mentioned that I want a change in my food habits. Just because people see me eat healthy food, they assume that I’m interested in dieting. Just because they ‘catch’ me eat fattening food, they think they should enlighten me with their wisdom and guide me along the path of good health.
I’m not even a foodie. I eat to satiate my hunger and am happy if I can have something yummy. In fact, I frequently forget to have my food. Often, I’d get a headache or become angry about trivial things and only then remember that I didn’t eat anything for the past few hours. If there is one thing people should advise me about food, it is to set a reminder to eat on time. Why people make it their business to advise me about my food choices or think it is appropriate to tell me to diet, I never know.
Not just me, but many people are judged for what they eat. I think I don’t have to justify my statement when I say that fat shaming is real. People (read women) who are even barely chubby are condemned to listen to crap about their food choices from ‘well-meaning’ strangers. Currently, I do not have enough experience or knowledge about it to explore further on the topic, so I’ll stick to talking about skinny shaming that is faced by my friends.
Skinny may be seen as the ideal body type, but skinny people have a hard time too. If they are a foodie, some people get jealous and mock them saying, “It’s all a show. There’s no way she would eat that. She probably eats that in front of us so that we don’t find out she diets.” They might even say, “There is no way she eats that much and stays so thin. She’s probably bulimic.” Then there is the usual, “Oh, look at her eat so much and look so fab! What a metabolism she has! I eat one serving of dessert and I have to work out all day. Life is so unfair.”
There is also the classic Tamil insult to a thin person: He/she must be full of venai (loosely translated as bad intentions in this context). That’s why he/she cannot put on any weight. The belief here is that people with a good heart put on weight easily and people who are vengeful cannot.
If a skinny person happens to be a poor eater they are said to be dieting in order to maintain their figure. They are advised to eat more and have to listen to crap like, “What’s the point of life if you don’t eat good food? Stop dieting and focusing on your looks. Gaining weight doesn’t mean you are not beautiful.” There will also be people who tell a skinny girl that she has to eat more because being skinny isn’t feminine and she needs to get some curves to be beautiful.
Nowadays, it feels like there is no escape from criticism and advice on food habits, whether you are thin or fat or in between, whether you are fit or not, whether you even care about how you look. This is infinitely more annoying because most of the people who talk on this subject know nothing, or worse believe incorrect myths and propagate their misinformed half-truths.
I blatantly refuse to believe that some foods are good and some are evil. For instance, some may see cheese as a fattening piece of terror that is created to exploit their addiction, make them unhealthy and look like a potato, but I see it as a source of much-needed calcium and protein that my vegetarian self can happily gorge on once in a while without feeling any shred of regret or remorse.
Unless one considers lead, arsenic, mercury and the like as food for some reason, I think we can safely agree that all foods are good. We have a saying in Tamil that even elixir is poisonous if one has too much of it. While any food is bad for you if it exceeds a limit, any food can be enjoyed if you know how much and how often it is appropriate to consume.
Hence, it is neither sensible nor appropriate to judge a person for having a tub of chocolate ice cream for breakfast. First of all, we don’t know whether that’s their usual breakfast or if it is a one-time thing. Secondly, we don’t know what they are going through right now. Also, it’s their damn life, let them live how they want to. Unless we are really close to them, let us not even bring up their sweet tooth.
You see, there is this matter of how well you know someone before you can lecture them on how to lead their life. When my mom is displeased with my food habits, I will listen to her words and try to make changes. When my cousin tells me that I should include certain foods, I will gladly accept. When my good friend tells me that I ought to make my eating schedule less erratic, I will agree.
However, when a random auntie I see after years at some wedding tells me that I’ve put on weight and asks me to check what I eat, it is bound to annoy me. Not only is she not close to me, but she is also stating the obvious without providing any valuable input. Not to mention, to my utter rage, she would also subtly hint that I’ll have better prospects to get married if I lose just a tiny bit of weight and that’s a whole other topic that I’ll write about later.
It’s interesting how we used to be a society that considered food to be sacred, but nowadays we have no qualms wasting it or treating it like it’s not important. Tamil society has been known for its hospitality, where everyone would feel obliged to serve food to the hungry. In the olden days, the houses were built with a verandah specifically for travellers to sleep on. People would always prepare a little extra rice to serve any surprise guest or wandering travellers. If they didn’t receive any visitor, they would just ferment the remaining rice to be used the next morning.
While my previous generation was obsessed over eating more and filling people’s stomach to its fullest, my generation has somehow forgotten this trait and insists on asking people to eat in moderation or borderline starve. Where I’m from, you can seldom see a grandma say, “You’ve put on weight. Better start dieting now.” You can never see her agree when you say you’re full. She would always insist that you eat some more.
There is actually a custom here that when you’re serving rice, you have to serve at least one more spoon after the person says the quantity is enough. Whenever you are invited to dine at someone’s place, 99.99% of the time, though you say that the quantity already served is enough, people will shove a ladle full more rice onto your plate and tell you that you have to eat more to become stronger. Also, if a guest visits your house, you cannot let them leave without eating anything, at least some coffee if they are in a hurry. This custom, I’m sure is prevalent across India and in many other countries as well.
It is always funny when a Tamil person tells me to hold on with the cheese/butter. I wonder what their grandparents’ reaction would be if they saw such a scene. Sure, we don’t have to invite strangers in for a nightcap and dinner (and that would be highly inadvisable these days), but why are we stopping people from eating what they want?
While it can be argued that we should eat to live, and not live to eat, the emotions attached to food I’m talking about are based on providing enough food to be nourished and grow healthy. I’m sure a lot of cultures around the world have/had a similar sentiment with food where food is a way to express love and nurturing others with food is a way to say you care.
While it is proper for parents to be strict about their child’s diet, outsiders commenting on an adult’s food habit is completely uncalled for and plain rude. Here is something that I want all the judgers to know. Everyone has different tastes, regarding food or otherwise. Everyone has a different metabolism. Everyone performs different amounts of physical exertion. Everyone has a different health condition. Every adult knows what food is good for them and what is not. Even if they don’t, others need not butt in and go on and on about it. Unless you are a nutritionist and we are paying you to help us out, let us just eat whatever we want in peace!
P.S. I’d recommend that you follow “Fit is a Feminist Issue” if you are interested in topics concerning fitness and health.
Have you ever been judged for the food you eat or critiqued about your food choices by random people who are not your kith and kin? If yes, how did it make you feel? Did you argue or did you pretend that it didn’t affect you? What did you want the judgers to know? Comment below!